Facebook and Privacy Rights

With the entire buzz surrounding the Facebook, Inc. IPO on May 18, 2012, American investors (notwithstanding the global investor) view this company like a Horatio Alger business success story. When the market closed, Facebook’s net worth is estimated at more than $100 billion US dollars. However, another story about Facebook, Inc. that affects the everyday user especially in America concerns internet usage and privacy rights. And, it appears that Facebook’s instant financial success is met with a $15 billion US dollars lawsuit. This class-action lawsuit filed on Friday, May 18, 2012, in federal court in San Jose, California, combines 21 more similar cases from around the country that were previously filed in 2011. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, “the suit claims that by tracking users' movements online outside of  Facebook, which the social network can do through its ‘Like’ button, it violates the U.S. Wiretap Act, according to Mashable. That act ‘provides statutory damages of the greater of $100 per violation per day, up to $10,000, per Facebook user.”  Also, “This is not just a damages action, but a groundbreaking digital-privacy rights case that could have wide and significant legal and business implications,” David Straite of Stewarts Law LLP, US, and this social network may be violating European privacy laws. 

In America, we are protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution from unreasonable government searches and seizures. This protection extends also to your computer and portable devices. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) “defending your rights in the digital world” – maintains a watchful eye as it monitors the privacy rights activity worldwide. In addition, EFF presents white papers on topics like A Guide for Travelers Carrying Digital Devices.  Another research center that acts like a clearinghouse for electronic privacy information consists of a bank of resources and is found at Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC.) From that website I found a link to a recent report from the Pew Research Center on Privacy management on social media sites. Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist, Pew Internet Project writes “Some researchers have suggested that social network users are uniquely unconcerned about privacy; that over time, regular use of social media without any major negative experiences may lessen their concerns about sharing information. Other threads of the privacy-is-dead argument point to the relative ease with which people’s digital footprints and physical whereabouts can now be tracked and the great lengths to which someone must go to protect their anonymity online — or offline.”  


With 900 million users worldwide and growing, Facebook and other social networks have created a web-like connection of our “honey-pot of personal information” by providing a place to share with friends, family and the public, which is undeniably compelling to Internet users like you and me. “Most users choose restricted privacy settings while profile ‘pruning’and ‘unfriending’ people is on the rise.” according to the Privacy management on social media sites report.  Although there are major privacy rights activist consortiums that continue to monitor new technologies on behalf of the American people, recent reports show a prevalent of apathy to the loss of personal information via social media as long as no adverse effects are realized. At the same time the evolution of technology encourages the disclosure of information and enables “the sharing of this information even when not sitting in front of a traditional computer or when using your mobile phone.” New technologies continue to undermine our privacy rights as seen recently in this latest lawsuit against Facebook, Inc.  Being prudent when using a social media network, a computer, and a smart phone are the first steps followed by increasing awareness on privacy rights and accepting responsibility when using the internet AKA World Wide Web.

Susanne L Woodford, Freelance Writer